Operation Warp Speed was slated to distribute 20 million coronavirus vaccines by the end of the year, but that number is far lower than that so far. The federal government's goal of distributing 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccines this month was announced just at the start of the month.
As of Tuesday, 11 million vaccines have been distributed. But even more concerning is not just the distribution of the vaccines, but the actual administration of the vaccines. Only 20% of vaccines that have been distributed have been administered to patients, according to CDC figures.
Walgreens, which has been tasked with administering the vaccine to residents and staff of 35,000 assisted living facilities throughout the US, ran into issues of its own last week in Kentucky.
Currently, the vaccine is being administered to health care workers, and those in assisted living facilities. But with vials of vaccines set to expire, employees opted to administer the vaccine to those not at the front of the vaccine line.
Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine can only be stored at refrigerated temperatures for five days.
“Remaining doses from the scheduled clinics in Kentucky were immediately reallocated and used in facilities with clinics on Christmas Eve that were originally scheduled to occur at a later date,” Walgreens said in a statement. “Additional excess doses were then offered to local first responders, Walgreens pharmacy and store team members and residents of the community, many of whom were over age 65. These measures were taken to ensure every dose of a limited vaccine supply was used to protect patients and communities.”
The federal government has largely left the states in charge of setting protocols for administering vaccines. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said that those protocols were not followed.
"Do I believe it came from a good place? Yes, because they didn't want any of it to go to waste,” Beshear said. “But should it have been done differently? Yes. Are there procedures in place that should've been followed that would've done it differently? Yes."
Dr. Ashish Jha, a prominent public health expert who is now a dean at Brown University, expressed his frustration on Twitter late Monday by slowdowns in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.
“The worst part is no real planning on what happens when vaccines arrive in states No plan, no money, just hope that states will figure this out,” Jha said.
Last week, leaders of Operation Warp Speed said they were improving their process of distributing vaccines nationwide.
"We are working with the states in collaboration to make sure that we have a continuous contact with everybody who's receiving the vaccine, so that we can make sure that they know when the package is arriving or if the package will be late," Army Gen. Gustave F. Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said. "We're confirming and always getting better at development of addresses to ensure that we know the right places to go to, and there's no delay there.”
So far in the month of December, there have been nearly 70,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the United States. Given that the two coronavirus vaccines currently authorized to be used in non-clinical settings have a 95% efficacy rate, there is an urgency among public health experts to get the vaccines into the arms of Americans.
In an interview with CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed frustration about the numbers of people vaccinated in the first two weeks of distribution.
"We certainly are not at the numbers that we wanted to be at the end of December. You heard talking about 40 million doses for 20 million people. I mean even if you undercount-- 2 million is an undercount-- how much undercount could it be. So we are below where we want to be,” Fauci said.
Following the original publication of this story, the White House defended its rollout of the vaccine.
"President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed has developed safe and effective vaccines 5 times faster than any similar effort in history, and he has already made the vaccines free for all Americans," the White House said in a statement. "Nearly 20 million first doses have been allocated to States for immediate delivery and administration at their direction, and this process is progressing rapidly. Hundreds of millions of doses have been secured to be delivered over the months to come. The President has used the Defense Production Act 18 times in connection with Operation Warp Speed and will continue to employ it wherever possible to accelerate vaccine manufacturing and save lives. While partisan critics offer nothing but empty rhetoric to frighten Americans for political ends, President Trump delivers results. Our country’s brightest days are ahead thanks to President Trump’s relentless pursuit of safety and prosperity for all."
It should be noted that it has been more than 100 years since a pandemic of this magnitude has spread through the United States.
WLEX contributed to this report.